A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

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Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

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For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.

 

Avinu Malkeinu, אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ

Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎‎; “Our Father, Our King”)

My reflection upon a year filled with the most up’s and down’s I have ever had in my life has transpired over the last ten days. This year has encompassed one tremendous mountain climb after another of learning, personal growth, and change. Ending tomorrow it begins anew at sundown. The essential part of religion for me as a human has always been the poetry of words and music woven together as one. It is where I started my love of singing and cemented my roots for who I am today.

Lyrics as follows to what brings me to my knees in song and prayer:

AVINU MALKEINU 
Avinu malkeinu sh’ma kolenu
Avinu malkeinu chatanu l’faneycha
Avinu malkeinu chamol aleynu
Ve’al olaleynu vetapeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Kaleh dever
vecherev vera’av mealeynu
Avinu malkeinu
kaleh chol tsar
Umastin mealeynu

Avinu malkeinu
Avinu malkeinu
Kat’veinu besefer chayim tovim
Avinu malkeinu chadesh aleynu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

Avinu malkeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Avinu malkeinu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

OUR FATHER, OUR KING 
Our father our king, hear our voice
Our father our king, we have sinned before you
Our father our king, Have compassion upon us
and upon our children

Our father our king
Bring an end to pestilence,
war, and famine around us
Our father our king,
Bring an end to all trouble
and oppression around us

Our father our king,
Our father our king,
Inscribe us in the book of (good) life
Our father our king, renew upon us
Renew upon us a good year

Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

Our father our king,

Our father our king,
Renew upon us a good year

Our father our king,
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

Trees of growth

The phrase, “Hurt people, hurt other people,” rang ever so true for me today. There was once a time in my life when I would tolerate abuse, but I no longer allow that to become a part of my story. I have been the victim of one too many falsities in the last ten months. Today was the event that broke the camel’s back.

IF a person has an issue with something I have said or done, it is an expectation as a decent human being that they talk directly to the source, being me. With words spoken from truth, sincerity, and love, directly, and in person, I would be more than happy to have a mature conversation about the said concern. That, and only that is the way to speak in an honest, mature, and caring way.

I feel so disheartened that in our world today we accept as a norm that people are unable to actually allow themselves to feel and explain their thinking. Something I have learned in the last three years is that when you speak of your truths, your love, your pain; you are forced into “uncomfortable” territory. HOWEVER, once within that territory, staking claim of the feeling, acknowledging it and learning how to walk with it is possible. That, therein, is where growth begins to take root.

In my mind I grow a forest. In this said forest I see a vast array of trees that have grown in my thirty two years of life. Some of these trees are as tall as a sitka spruce found in the Denali National Forest, while others are mere seedlings beginning to thrive and seek the light from within. It is only when I open myself up to the possibility of healing, of love, of light, that my forest will receive nourishment. IF I were to allow another person’s attempt to steal my joy, or plant seeds of doubt, then the clouds roll in and the weeds sprout amongst my trees.

There was a rain storm before my drive this afternoon. I was filled with utter disappointment, and I allowed myself to look at a situation and become overwhelmed with sadness. Then after the rage and tears passed, the rain fizzled out, I turned a curve, and I looked up above the tree tops and I saw a rainbow. I saw it not once but twice. Once for me, and once for hope, for the future of what life can bring.

I no longer wish to be a part of a narrative in which the grounds are covered in weeds and seedlings never bloom and grow. When someone runs hither and thither and spews hatred and venom, plants angry seedlings, and waters their plants with passive aggressiveness and lies to oneself and their fellow humans the ground becomes broken, dry, brittle, a barren waste land of what could have been a thriving forest.

It takes time to grow these trees in your mind. It takes time to ALLOW healing to take place. When you suffocate thyself and never face truths or feelings, all that is being done is repeating cycle after cycle of bitter blame for these “reasonings” and or ego driven perspectives of unjust deeds. Truths are challenging. Your personal truths, the words you feed yourself, whether they be loving or not impact your mind’s conscious and unconscious functioning.

If someone no longer wishes to be a part of my truths and help sow seeds of honesty and hope, I release my hold and relinquish the desire to be tethered.

The chord has been cut.

The wound from the stab of someone else’s hurt has been acknowledged, I see it, I have felt it many, many times, I released it. I pulled out the dagger and turned it into a seed. I have chosen to plant it as one of my greatest lessons to learn from. I will watch as it grows into something more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

Beauty comes in the most unexpected ways.

Be honest with yourself, face your truths, and listen to your inner monologue. Consider the source and root of all your perceptions you hold. For, you see they are you, these are the direct reflections of your very inner core, your heartwood.  Are you growing a forest or a desert in which to dwell?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Add some vinegar to it…

One of the best gifts my sister bestowed upon me was her knowledge.

Knowledge for life.

Knowledge as a mentor teacher.

Knowledge about being a human.

Knowledge as a mother.

Knowledge as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a woman, a human, you name it.

Most of all, it was the knowledge that she learned about self-care in her last three years of life that enlightened our relationship. It was through our discussions, her advice, and pearls of wisdom that I truly grew as a person.

I knew what self-care meant as a concept, but I did not always act upon it.

She taught me that it was not selfish to put yourself first.

It was not selfish to eat healthy, take time to create and cultivate, to exercise, to love and cherish my body regardless of the pain that I went through from time to time.

She taught me that boundaries are healthy and that kindness is a choice that you can always act upon.

One beautiful gift she shared with me along the lines of self-care was acupuncture. This act of sharing an amazing healing arts center revolutionized my health. Acupuncture has been a key ingredient in my recipe for survival and loving myself through my life journey in the last year.

I often have joked that the acupuncture specialist I see is also my therapist. She is an advisor, a healer, and a listener. She helps me feel more balanced, and allows me to feel safe enough to strip away the outer coating I shield myself with. This provdes me with the opportunity to expose my truths and reveal myself openly to my connect my mind, body, and spirit.

There is something to be said about allowing yourself to be vulnerable with a health care advisor whom you trust and recognize has wisdom to share, when they truly listen to you.

She asked me recently, “How are you feeling…” and I said, “I’m getting there, working on feeling better, not there yet…” She said, “You need a little embellishment, a little bit of balsamic vinegar to take the recipe to that next level… to get it there, here we go…”

Small prick one, small prick two, “What about now? (Pulse check) Yes, that’s it.”

Who knew that the girl who feared shots and begged for them to be over as a small child would regularly seek the counsel of a Chinese medicine specialist. This same girl looks forward to the tiny pricks that provide balance with miniscule needles.

Sprinkle some vinegar into your routine and see what comes of it. You just might surprise yourself.dsc_7048

Photo credit: K. Sciuto

Ninth Year

Think of a time when you felt safe, felt grounded, and felt happy.

Imagine that place.

Can you bring your olfactory sense back to the location? Can you see what it looks like before you? Perhaps you see it and walk within that realm when you dream. Or maybe it reappears every now and then when something strikes a memory chord in your brain.

I can still smell and feel parts of the interior walls of my elementary school. The smell of glue, the wet pavement outside on the playground, and the crisp air after snow has fallen and stillness unfolds.  These smells and the combined shine of the tile in the main hallway are emblazoned upon my memory. I can almost feel the painted brick wall on the outside of the gymnasium. If I close my eyes I can see the hallowed entryway of the leaded windows in the circular library with slivers of light darting across the gray carpeted floor. That smell of the books, dust, and a sense of comfort intertwined with one another can bring me back in an instant.

Walking into my school building four days ago, for the beginning of a new school year, I felt a rise of positive anticipation bubble up within me. There is something magical about watching all of the hopeful children of varying ages walk towards their next school year with fervent glee and nerves.

The twenty six individuals that entered our classroom on Tuesday all carried with them a sense of expectation, a sense of wonder, and an overwhelming sense of jitters.

Their day started off with a gift bag that was stapled together and laid upon their desks, with what they did not know was a plethora of supplies buried within each bag. A mentor colleague of mine taught me about this, “mystery bag,” game as a welcoming first day activity. Each year I have carried on the tradition with a new class.

As the day progressed the student’s nerves eased and my heart melted. I love watching students begin to unfold, ever so slowly they uncurl a tiny layer of themselves, their level of trust builds as they explore the beginning of friendship and community. The sense of innocence in their questioning and steadfast belief in, “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” is truly everything that adults strive to go back towards in time.

As an educator it is part of my job to teach about compassion, kindness, patience, and above all: love.  There is no curriculum that can encompass masterful lessons for these essential skills we need in life. It is merely a lesson in every interaction I have with a child, every question I answer, and the laughs that we share. I focus on sharing these ideals through the stories I select for students. They experience, read, and listen to these works of art every day. Children intrinsically desire to show kindness towards one another and I build upon this instinct to create a unique structure every year with a new community of people.

Going into this ninth year I felt a shift in myself as an educator. I realized my level of gratitude had been raised in the last few months. I felt grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for literature and life long learning every day with a new bundle of children. I felt hopeful about what my role could bring to the table in this year of growth for these students. I also felt a rise for my love of humanity, in which I dwell within as I walked through the doors, and down the halls, on the beginning of my ninth year.

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Introducing: The Incredible Kimmy the Wonder Pup…

In mid-July my husband and I expanded our family and adopted a pup named Kimmy. Little did we know that she was facing a life-threatening illness after we brought her home from the shelter. Within the first 48 hours of her life with us she faced parvo, an upper respiratory infection, and a deteriorating immune system. With supportive and knowledgeable vets, loving parents, and determination she survived.

Today she is thriving, chewing, playing, licking, cuddling, talking, and loving life. Sometimes the best things in life occur when you least expect them to do so.  Today she received shots and the knowledge that she is now 29 pounds, a great improvement from the mere 12 pounds a little over a month ago.

The Incredible Kimmy the dog is a Plott Hound, Retriever Lab mix with… maybe a little Great Dane, or Pitbull, who knows?! But this we do know: she has become a part of our hearts and we are eternally grateful for this new life. ❤

 

8 months with dragonfly tears

Reflect: Sunday the 21st marked 8 months.

Eight months of grieving and missing, and waking up and realizing that it wasn’t a dream, but that my sister is gone and I miss her every single day. I still find myself thinking, “Oh I can’t wait to share this with… I know that Debbie would love…”

Acknowledgement: It wasn’t until a day later that I really had a full, long cry of sobbing, angry, and sad tears of longing for my sister.

Find joy amidst the tears, always: I went back to her youtube channel and was watching videos she had posted for me throughout the years. I was trying to remember her voice perhaps. Hearing it made me realize just how much I missed it. Those quick chats, phone messages, and conversations I thought would always be available until two year’s ago reality clunked into view. Hearing the intonation of her sharing her thoughts in her vlogs throughout the years she lived in Hong Kong made me smile and laugh.

The tightness in my chest released with the flow of tears that over came me.

Communicate: While enjoying the view of our beloved, Portland Rose Garden recently I remarked to to my husband, “I sometimes find it hard to believe that she is gone because I feel like she’s right here with me, like in my heart, but I know the physical reminder is there.”

rose 2016 PRG

Maybe that is why it was so hard to watch the videos….because it reminds me that she isn’t here, physically any longer.

Miracle moment: I had a beautiful moment while meeting a friend the day before the 21st. She had just sat down and a dragonfly fluttered by and landed briefly on her head. It was beautiful, sleek, green, with iridescence.

Dragonflies.

I never would have thought it before, but whenever I see one, which has been very frequent this summer, I know it is a sign from Debbie. A little glimmer that her spirit has transformed and she is listening from afar.

I smiled and said, “It was a dragonfly! Whenever I see a dragonfly I feel like it’s a message from my sister, she’s here with me.”

I had a recurring dragonfly encounter while visiting Utah this past June. I was walking to and from my friend’s research building on a campus in SLC. I exited the building and made my way across the grass that laid underneath the scorching sun and 100 degree day’s heat. Suddenly, I was being ushered to my bus stop by a fluttery friend, a beautiful dragonfly. It flew with me for about  a block and disappeared. Sure enough, on my way back hours later, the dragonfly visited again when I trudged back towards the building.

Same thing the next day.

Nature provides the best escorts, what can I say?

Take Action and Honor: This past month I completed a wish for Debbie. Well, really began the process after careful consideration, thoughts, and emails with a couple of her close friends. I began the process to archive her personal blog in order to create a book of her work that she cultivated while trying to cope, survive, and research her experience with cancer.

Find healing: It felt cathartic, and challenging to work on it extensively. I realized how important it was for my words to be as clear as possible in the creation of the forward and afterward, and the importance of the bibliophile I was writing about. Honoring her memory, her work, and her perseverance brought me closer to understanding what an amazing woman she was.

Small miracle moments of hope fly all around us. Sorrow has been transformed into something beautiful, effortless, and full of joy.  Watch for rainbows and dragonflies friends. And of course, for sparkles in the light.

Dalai Lama on Loss:

M.T. to end M.S. Benefit Concert

MT to end MS poster

On July 8th, 2016, at Portland State University, we will be presenting a benefit concert titled, MT to end MS. This is a concert that has been six years in the making. One that my husband, our friends, and family have helped us to bring to fruition. We will be joined by four friends to present a musical theatre concert filled with humor, hope, and harmony. If  you feel so inclined to join us, or purchase tickets for other people to attend, if you live far away, please visit this website for ticket information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2554413

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M.S. 

This is an acronym that stands for multiple sclerosis. 

What does that even mean? To me it means my husband has a disease that we have minimal control over. It means that six years ago his health changed, our life together changed, and we face it together to this day. M.S. means that with research, with funding, and with clinical trials there may be a cure in our lifetimes.

The technical explanation goes something like this: M.S. or multiple sclerosis can be a disabling disease that affects the central nervous system in a human’s body. The central nervous system controls everything you do as a human. Consider this, when you lift your hand or arm, you use your nervous system.  If you have to turn a certain direction and move your head, or perhaps you want to articulate the protocols for a specific procedure at work; your recall of thought comes from… you got it… the central nervous system. The central nervous system in turn controls the ability to follow through with your desire and your independent function in life.

The fascinating and frightening thing about M.S. is that something signals the immune system in our body to attack the brain and spinal cord. After these attacks take place there are lesions or ‘spots’ left on the brain that indicate with MRI that the person has MS.  We were told once to think about it like this:

Do you own a vacuum?

Does that vacuum have a thick cord that plugs into the wall?

Yes?  That cord, if cut open has a thick outer layer protecting all the complex wires beneath the cord.  That cord is similar to your spinal cord, and all the nerve fibers coursing through your brain. Except that in your brain these are covered with what is called myelin.  This myelin is similar to the vacuum cord’s plastic covering.  The outer layer that protects your nerve fibers and spinal cord is a vacuum cord essentially.

The immune system will suddenly attack the myelin all the way to the core which will then interrupt signals that are sent to the brain and leave lesions or spots from the damage. Therein causing unpredictable symptoms such as numbness, tingling, blindness, mood changes, memory problems, inability to walk, the inability to move your appendages, paralysis, this list could carry on and on, it depends on each individual. 

For my husband it was numbness in his hand, arm, and later optical neuritis that signaled to us that something was going on with his body. Something serious. Something that took months and months to diagnose. At the end of a six month journey we had a diagnosis, we had met with many medical physicians, and finally we had found an amazing neurologist that gave us options for RRMS, remitting and relapsing MS. The unknown can seem daunting, however with knowledge, with questions, and with the ability to focus on the can do’s and not the can not’s you can move forward with your life.

Raising awareness for this cause is crucial, not just in a personal way for my husband and friends living with M.S., but for future generations to hopefully not live with or experience this disease.  For more information please visit the National M.S. Society’s webpage at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

All proceeds from our event will be put directly into the bike MS fund for my husband’s 2016 team.  All funds received go directly to the National MS society for further research to find a cure.  Thank you for reading this friends. Have a sparkling day.

Note: I first wrote of my husband’s journey years ago before his first Ironman Competition. It was titled, “Footprints Along The Way,” and can be found in my blog archive list for July 2014.

Dear Debbie, Vol. IV

Six months passed yesterday.

With the warm breezes of June it swept in like a burst of sandy wind across the skies in Utah as I saw the day pass by one moment at a time. The sun beat down, the sky stretched out blue, cloudless, like a picturesque day.

I found myself breathing easier, although embarking on my own new journey brought more mental work than I had anticipated. Exercising your mind, your spirit, and your essence of humanity takes conscientious thought, strength, and work. That is where I am currently residing at the present time. I found Gabrielle Bernstein’s work and have been knee deep in the majestic possibilities that time, thought, and love can bring forth.

I listened to the Dalai Lama yesterday. He was visiting the University of Utah for a special engagement. You would have loved his words, his insight, and especially his humor. I found this particular story enlightening:

A question from the audience was answered by the Dalai Lama, “My father passed away from suicide recently. I find myself filled with sadness all the time. What guidance can you give me about the place that he is now in?”  The Dalai Lama ended his explanation of what grieving may look like with the words, “No amount of sadness can bring your father back….Your father can feel your sadness if you remain as such…you must work to fulfill his will and live.” One more phrase that spoke to me was, “Compassion, love, open mindedness, investigation, questions, these bring forward the opportunity for answers.”

I felt that it must have been beshert that I was here in Utah. Here visiting Katie. Logged into the wifi as a guest, saw the universities home page and was struck by the opportunity that laid out in front of me…the Dalai Lama, his message, and the sense of love that his presence provided was eloquent timing for me as a mere mortal on Earth.

If I were to recount what the past month has brought forth in my small little world, our Oregon community, our nation, and our world it would be filled with joys, with sorrows, and with a flood of tears and rainbows. I do not wish to recall this list because I know that your presence is felt and already knows.

I will end this blog with a beautiful array of faces and places that mark moments on this journey. I shall leave this blog with some quotes from your sweet boy who enlightened me days ago.

“Aunt Rachel, what do you think death is like? Does it all go still and black, or do our bodies stop, but our mind goes somewhere else?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we went on to continue with our thinking, and go to this other place?!

Sometimes I think about what other people have seen, you know? Like what has he or she seen in their life? In their experiences. I want to know!”

I’ll end with this quotable moment…

happiness-quote-from-gabrielle-bernstein-s-may-cause-miracles-a-40-V3lL0y-quote

Stop. Just breathe.

Stop.

It’s a four letter word that has power. It holds the opportunity to communicate a clear, yet simple message.

So why is it so hard to say?

It is the one word I use when a student is being inappropriate, a boundary violator, or seeking my advice as to what to say when someone bothers them.

Say, “Stop.”

What is it about all this noise around us today? It seems to be a spinning vortex of information, misinformation, communication and miscommunication. It is nestled into every moment of every day.

Stop.

Are you listening?

Do you listen when someone speaks, or do you wait to respond? Sometimes I do both. It’s a work in progress.

Do you ever find yourself oversharing or emotionally vomiting with words?

Stop. Just say, “STOP self.” And do just that, stop.

No one needs to be the bearer of your misinformation, your quandaries about another, or the oversharing bulldozer of what is unnecessary data.

Hanging in my classroom is the following poster below that has the word THINK written vertically. It was made into an acronym for a few concepts.  I saw the idea online a long time ago, and I made my own poster. Consider the following before you speak, share, or “share” through social media…

T-is it TRUE?

H-is it HELPFUL?

I-is it INSPIRING?

N-is it NECESSARY?

K-is it KIND?

All too often we are not provided or providing the possibility for communication that is quality, confidential, and kind. Listening to my friends, my loved ones, my colleagues, my acquaintances, often times I see my reflective behavior in them. My energy level shifts, my mood can fluctuate, and can be a barometer at times unless I truly concentrate on what the person is saying, before I allow my emotions to come forth.

I have practiced something with my students this year called, “problem solving mediation.” Now, it might sound simplified and silly, but it is the same elemental principles in having a crucial conversation as an adult. It can be challenging, but with continued practice, it can work.

Instead of saying, “YOU this, you that, you are, you did that….stop and think.” What impacted you as an individual? The, “I, me, my, mine of the issue.” Start with an I statement, breathe, and proceed providing adequate time for the other to share and communicate when they are done.

Now, it does not always solve every issue, but I do feel that learning the basic techniques of communicating your personal perception, emotion, concern or question is essential for little and older people alike. Start with the I, use THINK, and then communicate. It is better to attempt to work it out, then ruminate on a negative vibe or feeling that festers with time.

If I have learned anything from my losses this year it is this…

Life is too short. Don’t waste it with, “I’m going to….you should’s, or he that’s…” speak up, enjoy it, work on it, make progress with the simple steps you take every day.

If you need to take some steps backwards for grounding then do so.

Quit apologizing.

Stop agonizing.

Get up, get moving, and start doing.

Do for you, do for Debbie, live and enjoy what you are offered today, and simply be grateful for the opportunities that are presented.

As challenging, as uncomfortable, or as difficult as they may seem.

Face it. Live it. Love it.

Breathe.

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